Addiction has the power to change an entire family, making it feel impossible to think about anything but concerns about the addict’s well-being and future. Codependency is the process through which a person or group of people enable an addict’s addiction by offering money, companionship, legal help, or other services the addict wants. Codependency usually occurs because the enabler feels dependent on the relationship with the addict or afraid of what will happen if he stops offering assistance to the addict.
How Addiction Creates Codependency
It’s normal to want to help someone you love, but codependency occurs when a codependent person sacrifices his own well-being to help an addict. Addiction creates codependency in a number of ways. First, many addicts are excellent at manipulating people, and actively seek out vulnerable people who are willing to help them. These people may have a history of codependent behavior with other addicts. Second, addiction creates an unstable and stressful environment. Some people respond to this stress by becoming obsessed with helping and protecting the addict. It’s also common for addicts to make promises they can’t keep. People unfamiliar with addiction may offer assistance because they believe an addict’s false promises to go to rehab, stop stealing, or stop using drugs. Finally, some people engage in codependent behavior because they are so concerned about the addict’s safety that they cannot resist the desire to interfere.
How Codependency Enables Addiction
People struggling with codependency often justify their behavior on the grounds that they’re just being nice. It can be difficult to say no to an addict you love, particularly when he’s suffering, as all addicts do. Addicts, though, will keep using until they have a strong incentive to quit. When a loved one repeatedly bails the addict out, offers her money, or repeatedly forgives severe infractions, the addict knows he can continue using while still getting the support he wants. This can spur further drug and alcohol abuse.
Some addicts misuse the assistance that enablers offer to them. The money you gave your brother to pay rent may go to drugs, while the legal help you pay for only helps an addict escape responsibility. There’s nothing wrong with helping someone you love, but when your help makes remaining an addict the easier choice, you’re involved in a codependent relationship.
Freeing Yourself from Codependency
Anyone can develop a codependent relationship. To reduce your risk of getting trapped in a one-sided relationship with the addict you love, try taking the following steps:
- Don’t offer assistance only because you think it might encourage the addict to get clean. Instead, do things because you want to, not because you’re hoping for any specific outcome.
- Don’t allow an addict to guilt you into offering assistance.
- Set clear boundaries, and don’t allow the addict to violate them. If you’ve told the addict you will only give him money once he commits to rehab, don’t give into pressure to pay his rent.
- Don’t use assistance as a way to try to gain control over the addict; this only increases codependency.
- Don’t sacrifice your own well-being. If offering money means you can’t pay your bills or offering phone support means you feel miserable for a day, just say no.